To read the past parts of “Pirate Hunters,” check out Volume 2, Issues 2, 3, and 5 in the Inkwell Literary Magazine’s online archive.
A few days (more than I care to recall) after the battle with Vaydor’s men in A Coruña, we put into port at Lisbon, the Portuguese capital. A small naval vessel stopped us as we were passing by the Belém Tower. The tower looked like a massive stone sarcophagus bristling with muskets and cannons. Brightly uniformed soldiers meandered around its parapets.
The Portuguese officials in the boat boarded the Adventurer and asked the captain for documents. Captain Deney, maintaining a relaxed, jovial nature, presented them with evidence that we were a part of the Ocracoke Guild. The mustached customs officer raised an eyebrow and peered curiously at the captain through a cracked monocle, but then returned the document and disembarked, granting us access to the city.
Finally, we docked, but that was no occasion for rest. Unfortunately, the weather had been very fair in the days preceding the attack, rendering the sails crisp, dry, and very susceptible to the flaming crossbow bolts the pirates had launched at them. The damages reduced our sailing speed by more than a third, even after we implemented temporary repairs. Because of the inadequacy of our vessel, we were forced to dock in Portugal sooner than expected to repair and restock the Adventurer.
I entered the captain’s cabin to find Sánchez and Dabu arguing with Deney. Curious, I stopped under the doorframe to listen and find out what they were arguing about, since they had not yet acknowledged me.
“But I wanted to visit Cousin Jorge!” Sánchez was complaining. “I haven’t seen him in so long!”
“Then I suppose you’ll have to choose your priorities,” the captain said. “Shall we visit your cousin and let Vaydor get ahead of us, or shall we skip the Falkland Islands and beat him?”
“I’m not sure that leaving out the usual supply stop at the Falkland Islands is a wise decision, captain,” Dabu said. “It may help us beat Vaydor to Mexico, but it could also kill us all. If a storm hits us and blows us too far off course, we could run out of provisions and starve before we reach Mexico.”
“If we stop in the Falkland Islands,” the captain countered, “Vaydor will most assuredly arrive in Mexico days before us, and the mission will be lost. You know this. Mending the sails at sea will make the Adventurer slow. Replacing them and stopping in the Falkland Islands will put her behind. In both cases, we lose. Our only chance to beat Vaydor to Mexico is to replace the sails, stock up, and go straight across, completely skipping the Falklands.”
At this point Captain Deney turned to me. “What do you think, Marine? Is it feasible or is it folly?”
My heart sank when I realized that he was counting on me to sway the others to his side. My mind was screaming at me to declare the mission impossible, but instead I said, “It can be done.”
“There, gentlemen,” Captain Deney said. “Driven by our calling and protected by our prayers, we will reach Mexico before Vaydor, and we will bring him to justice.”
With that, he took up his rapier and started walking toward the door. “Dabu! Get the men to take down the damaged sails.”
“Aye, captain.” The huge African stood up and began to follow. When he passed me, his shoulder bumped into me and shoved me to the side. I darted a savage look at the first mate, but he didn’t glance back.
When the two men had left, I sat down with Sánchez. I spread out my charts to get to work, but when I looked up, the Spaniard had a pitiful look on his face.
“Poor Cousin Jorge,” he said, his lip quivering slightly.
A few days later, we set sail and left Lisbon. The Adventurer was heavily stocked with provisions, water, powder, and shot. Surprisingly, I felt good about myself. I had done something to help the captain. I was beginning to feel called to the pirate-hunting life. Maybe I could finally find satisfaction in life from Vaydor’s capture. As we left the Portuguese harbor, I vowed to myself to attend Vaydor’s hanging in person if I could.
Several days we spent on the deep sea. The sea-sky wore a fresh blue, and her salty breath filled our sails. Sometimes I would look over the railing into the water and wonder what the depths would reveal to me if I had the ability to peer straight through the darkness. Would there be great monsters sleeping on the ocean floor, like the ones that had devoured so many of the sailors of old? Or were the ruins of the lost city of Atlantis lying there in silent repose, just like Plato said? Or were there just piles of skeletons, the dead of the sea, who would continue sleeping until the end of time? Or what if the ocean had no bottom at all?
One day I started contracting a cold, so the captain gave me a bottle of brandy to use at my discretion. I was sitting in the captain’s cabin, looking at my maps and charts, and was about to go out onto the deck to take soundings. I had a glass from the captain’s cupboard on the desk, which was half full of brandy, with the bottle beside it. Just then Dabu came in. We ignored each other as usual, until he spotted the brandy.
“Where did you get that?” he asked gruffly.
“The captain,” I replied disdainfully. “I’m coming down with a cold.”
Dabu mumbled something that I didn’t hear. Although I was almost certain it was some kind of insult meant for me, I tactfully ignored him. A few seconds later he came over to the desk and seized the bottle.
“What are you doing?” I demanded.
“Having a drink.”
“That’s my bottle!”
“You said it was the captain’s,” he countered. “And I’m the first mate. Know your place, navigator.”
“Know yours, slave.”
Dabu set the bottle down, slowly. Immediately, I knew I had hit a nerve. We locked eyes.
“What did you call me?” Dabu asked.
“Oh, are you deaf as well as daft?” As I said those words, I could see in his eyes that we would not leave the cabin without exchanging blows. Not wanting Dabu to be the first to act, I launched myself at his massive body and slammed my fist into his face. He reeled and sputtered, but then grabbed me and threw me from him. Knowing he was stronger than I and that I had lost my hold on his body, I drew my whaling knife. Luckily, Dabu had no weapon. We started circling, eyes locked. Then we simultaneously charged. Dabu got a hold of my knife wrist, and we grappled. Finding my weapon restrained, I headbutted the first mate, which I knew would result in him having a black eye. Dabu responded by backhanding me across the face. Immediately, I tasted blood. The next few seconds of the fight remain just a blur in my memory, but somehow our violent dance around the cabin ended with me getting shoved or thrown behind the desk. My body violently hit the picture of the beautiful woman that hung behind the captain’s chair, and it fell to the floor, breaking the frame. Instantly, we stopped fighting. But before we could do anything, the door opened, and Captain Deney appeared. We froze, uncertain of what he would do or say to us.
He seemed to notice the absence of the picture on the wall almost instantly. His eyes wandered from the picture’s former place on the wall to the two of us, who were panting slightly. My shirt had become untucked, my face was bloodied, and Dabu’s eye had swollen considerably. My glass of brandy lay shattered on the floor, and the bottle had rolled against the wall, leaving a wet trail of the beverage. A stool had been knocked over, and various items lay on the floor.
The captain walked slowly over to where the picture had fallen. Dabu and I hurriedly shuffled out of his way. He squatted down and picked up the picture, which had landed face down.
“Get out,” Deney said. Without another word, Dabu and I scurried out of the cabin.
I spent the rest of that day trying to avoid Dabu and Deney. I did not know who the woman in the picture was, but I knew we had upset the captain by knocking it down. It was evening when Little Tom came to where I was lying in my hammock.
“Captain wants to see you up by the wheel,” the cabin boy said.
Slowly, I trudged up to the ship’s wheel. I dreaded the reprimand I knew I was going to receive.
Deney was staring at the sea when I arrived. Even though he had his back to me, I knew he could tell I was there. Entirely unwilling to start the conversation, I stood in stubborn silence and joined him in looking at the ocean. The golden dish of the sun was slowly sinking into the mirror-like sea. I could almost hear the soft bubbling as it sank beneath the waters.
Finally, the captain said something. “On my ship, the only fighting granted to my men is against pirates, not each other.”
There was another long pause.
“You had your knife drawn, Marine. Were you trying to kill my first mate?”
“He’s stronger than me. I had to defend myself.”
“Marine, everyone on this ship knows that you and Dabu have no liking for each other. Both of you were looking for an excuse to fight. Fighting between crew members is a breach of discipline. I should have you keelhauled.”
I stood and said nothing.
“Marine. Dabu is your fellow human being. Underneath his skin he has a soul, just like you and I. Do you know the greatest commandment?”
I thought awhile. “Is it ‘Thou shalt not kill?’”
“No, the greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. The second is to love your neighbor as yourself. Dabu is your neighbor.”
“The Scriptures make no such distinction. Dabu’s people and our people are both Gentile. He is just as guilty as you are, but you also are as guilty as he.”
Bitterness surged within me. “Why do you expect me to follow the laws of a God who has done nothing for me?”
The captain stared at me long and hard. His strange face, which possessed characteristics of both youth and age, regarded me with unblinking eyes. “Someday, you will deeply regret those words,” he said. “But until then, I must see to it that order and discipline are maintained on my ship. Fighting among the crew has never been allowed aboard the Adventurer, and no exceptions will be made for even the navigator and first mate. I will have you both mastheaded from dawn till dusk tomorrow.”
For those not familiar with punishments on the high seas, I will explain what keelhauling and mastheading is. Keelhauling is by far the more severe. When a man is keelhauled, he is pulled under the ship on one side and hauled onto the other by a rope. If he doesn’t drown, he usually has large bruises. When a man is mastheaded, he is forced to sit in the crow’s nest for a longer period of time, without a coat, to shiver in the cold wind. And that is exactly what Dabu and I did the next day. In the Royal Navy, having been a disciplined soldier, I had never undergone a humiliating punishment like this before. Dabu and I sat back-to-back, arms crossed, shivering. Not a word passed between us. That was a long, terrible day. We both knew that each blamed the other, and we also knew that the other men pretended to ignore us but would cast curious glances at us when we weren’t looking. If I had been mastheaded alone, I could have borne it, but being mastheaded with Dabu made it much worse.
Dabu and I ignored each other the days after our punishment. We resented each other much more than before. As an additional punishment, Captain Deney had taken away our weapons for the time being. I was determined to avoid both Deney and Dabu as much as possible, but Providence had it otherwise, because one morning, the sky was a deep blood red. And for those not acquainted with the sea, allow me to introduce you to an old mariner’s saying:
Red sky at night,
Red sky in morning,
sailors take warning.
To be continued…